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When reporting causes pain

Reporters are constantly calling people who don't expect to hear from us

The other day I phoned a woman who I thought was related to a little boy who had been killed on his front porch several years ago by a stray bullet. After a 9-year-old boy was killed in a similar way last month, I thought about reporting a story looking back at such tragedies from the perspective of families that had gone through such a trauma some years before.

(Jahi Chikwendiu/ TWP)

The woman, according to public records, was probably related to the boy. I got her answering machine. She sounded sweet, almost happy, with a cute message: "You know what this machine is. You know what to say." She did not sound like a woman still devastated at losing her nephew. Apparently, she really had moved on.

I tried to sound gentle. I said I know these times must be difficult for you, what with another child dying for no reason. I really think readers want to know what life is like for a family that has suffered such a loss now, years later, how life goes on, how you heal.

Later that day, the woman left me a voice mail: "You called me about a little boy who was murdered. You wanted to talk to me if anything like that has ever happened to me. Well, no one that I know has ever been murdered, so I don't guess I can't help you. Thank you. Bye."

Of all the dead ends I have traveled to as a reporter, for some reason this one weighed on me the most. Maybe it's because I now have a young son. I wondered what she thought of my call. I wondered whether she had children, and whether she erased the message and hugged them.

By Michael S. Rosenwald  | December 16, 2009; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  The inside story  | Tags:  Michael S. Rosenwald  
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